A Guess About the Future

Tim Kurkjian asked 12 people in baseball (GM’s, managers, players and umpires) what the game would look like in 2037. It’s an interesting collection of predictions.

It’s worth a read and I imagine things like a Sabermetrics coach and the pace of play ideas will happen. But I think three of the predictions are worthy of a deeper look.

First is the prediction that MLB will be a 28-team league in 20 years with the subtractions of Tampa Bay and Oakland is impossible in my mind. The fact is the owners of these teams have way too much invested in them to ever agree to contraction. And, the owners of the remaining 28 teams would never agree to the fees they would have to pay to contract those two teams. I think you always have to follow the money, and the money in this case is for more teams, not less. (I would be thrilled to go back to 28 teams and the elimination of divisions as the article speculates, I just can’t see it.)

The second prediction is, “ticket prices also will rise to a level that will make it even less affordable than today to attend a game.” I think we are actually arriving at a tipping point with ticket prices, stadium design and television. The fact is that all sports leagues are creating a two-tier system. The first tier is the premium experience- great seats and great service. The second tier is the opposite- terrible seats and no service. I believe that as television gets better and better, demand for the second tier is going to disappear. Let me explain.

There are few things better than going to a ballpark on a nice summer day and enjoying a game. But, if the reality is that you have to spend 1/2 my weekly paycheck to sit in some remote location where you can barely make out the players, I think most people are going to simply stay home and enjoy the game from the comfort of their living room, on their enormous wall-sized televisions. On that television, they will be able to control the 56-different camera angles available inside the stadium thanks to miniaturization and drones. With 3D television, it will almost feel like you are at the game. The people in the luxury seats will still come, but the other guys won’t, or won’t come very often. To that end, I expect that stadiums are going to shrink a lot in the coming years. If a new Yankee Stadium is built in 2030, I would expect it to look a lot like the current one, just without the upper deck because fans who can only afford those seats don’t want them. The kids of today are used to seeing anything they want, at any time they want, in incredible detail. It will be next to impossible to convince them to attend a sporting event if they are seated miles away from the action.

Lastly, I think this is the most important paragraph in the whole article:

With all that money to be made, players will find a way to get the most they can, even if it means using performance enhancing drugs. As long as the carrot is there, as long as there is motivation and there are wildly competitive players, there will be those players that will try to beat the system, as there is, for example, with insider trading. There will always be new designer steroids, and there will always be more chemists trying to make them undetectable.

It’s absolutely right. When you are talking about life-changing contracts, the incentives to cheat the system will always be greater than the threats of punishment. Look at Rafael Palmeiro. He is one of the biggest pariahs in baseball and is ridiculed for his PED-use. But, he earned almost $90-million playing baseball. Wherever he is, he should not ever have to worry about how he will house or feed his family. The money has grown exponentionally since Palmeiro left the game, Brian McCann got about $90-million in one five-year contract. Unless MLB comes up with real financial penalties and retroactive testing like the Olympics uses, PED’s will be everywhere.